Friday, August 08, 2008

The Top 10 Most Critical Topics in Pauline Reseach

This is Michael Bird's list:
Why Did Saul of Tarsus Persecute the Church?
The Origin of Paul’s Gospel?
Paul and the Beginnings of the Gentile Mission
Paul and the Antioch Episode
Paul’s Problem with the Law
Paul and His Opponents
The Pauline Hermeneutic: Paul and Israel’s Sacred Traditions
The Purpose of Romans
Paul and the Parting of the Ways
The Quest for the Centrum Paulinium
Here's my own list, like Michael's rated in no particular order.
Paul's Reasons for Persecuting the Church
Paul's View of the Resurrection
The Origins of the Gentile Mission
The Antioch Incident
Paul's Relationship to Jerusalem
Paul's Relationship to the Synagogue
Paul's Critique of the Law
Paul's Meaning of "Righteousness" (and how central was the idea)
Paul's View of Salvation History (or lack thereof)
Paul's Inconsistencies and/or Evolution of Thought (reasons for)


Blogger Leon said...

There are built-in assumptions in some of these topics. The use of the word "Law" implies that Paul saw the Torah as a collection of laws. Whatever might be the correct translation of the Greek "nomos", Law is definitely a mistranslation of Torah. Torah was not a collection of laws and it is highly doubtful that Paul would have seen it that way. Before you can even begin to think about what problem, if any, Paul may have had with Torah, you really have to understand what it meant in Jewish life and what it would have meant to Paul. Failing to do that leads to imposing later Christian ideas on Jewish history.

As for why did Paul persecute the Church, there are two problems here. One is the assumption that "persecute" is the most appropriate word for what he was doing. The second is the use of the word "Church". This leads to projecting back into the Jesus movement everything we associate with later Christianity. More and more scholars are recognizing that, at this early stage, this was strictly a Jewish movement. How did Jewish movements relate to each other? What did they think about each other? What was the attitude of the Pharisees? And more. Using the word "Church" creates an impression that the Jesus community was some kind of alien presence within Judaism. I doubt very much that Jesus' followers saw themselves this way or that other Jews saw them as aliens.

There is a more open way to approach these problems that would be truer to the historical context. The way you phrase a question can easily bias your answers.

Leon Zitzer

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"most critical topics" for whom? I agree with Leon that some of these presuppose certain conclusion (if that's what he means). In the first list (Bird's), the last two are especially odd.

Blogger Leon said...

Yes, I do think that some of these topics presuppose certain conclusions. Here is a thought experiment to do. Try thinking about any issues concerning Paul or Jesus or Judas or Jewish leaders and see if you can frame it as neutrally as possible. It is very difficult to do. Our assumptions get in the way. Two thousand years of assumptions. It took me more than ten years just to figure out how to state what the Gospels say about Judas without introducing any bias into it. It is so hard to see clearly.

And if putting a question in a neutral way is difficult, then try framing the same question making different or even opposite assumptions from the ones you originally made. That too is difficult. The reason is that we usually do not see the bias in our own assumptions. We cannot see what is wrong, so why experiment with change? But that kind of experimentation is the essence of really good scholarship.

Leon Zitzer


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